My graduate thesis work will be completed in the next week and the conclusion of that work is a public gallery show at Purdue University. The show titled Community as Client is open to the public from Monday 11/11 through Friday 11/15.On Friday November 15 at 11:30am I will be giving a public talk about the work and the last years worth of research on social design that developed into the Well Baby Toolkit, my MFA thesis project. The Well Baby Toolkit will be released to public at the Gallery opening on Monday 11/11. I hope to share the toolkit here on my website in the next few weeks. I am looking forward to the next year to see what will come from the Well Baby Toolkit and my MFA research on social design.
A Facebook Event with details and calendar reminders is available here.
Based on the campus bicycle safety research it became clear that the university mapping systems: desktop computer, mobile device, or printed formats were not consistent or user friendly. This user experience research was conducted on over a dozen other campus mapping systems and a 33 page report was completed. Overall the print and digital maps were redesigned using an icon system that works with Google Maps. Updated color systems were put in place on the print and digital maps.
As author, designer and professor Scott Boylston once said: “Design with the community, not for the community.” I traveled south back to dear Savannah, GA. The trip was not only to participate in the Design Ethos conference held by Savannah College of Art and Design but to regain my creative energy for the final leg of my MFA research at Purdue University. A year later I am still looking back on all that I have accomplish, yet all that is ahead of me. Participating in the Do-Ference was a life changing experience I think of on a daily basis. Having the opportunity to work with Liz Ogbu, Marc O’Brien and Mike Weikert was just what I needed to wrap up my graduate research at Purdue.
We worked as a team to understand Waters Avenue. The area had been a throughway for many decades. With transportation changes, the area was declining. Our team identified the Assets, Challenges, and Opportunities of the area and designed a plan to help local residents and officials revitalize the area. Following the 3 day weekend Do-Ference in 2013, the Waters Avenue area is now under a multi-million dollar Streetscape plan to revitalize the area. The plan is anticipated to begin in 2015.
My research concentration is in the culture of design and the ethical obligations of designers. Researching what motivates designers allows me to investigate what overall purposes drive designers to create. Questioning what initiates designers to work in the form of philanthropy, social design, or even design impacts on community, nation, and world I am particularly interested in understanding designer talents and their power to make an impact on the future of designed communications. Examining these design motivations in the form of right from wrong leads to several significant research questions: who defines our obligations (what is right) and outlines unacceptable behavior (what is wrong) and what are the overall consequences to the results? Will design decisions be based on some understanding of ethics and if so how will it be evaluated? And finally, do visual communications designers hold more social responsibility than other design professions due to the public nature of the design communications field? While an individual can choose not to consume certain products (e.g. clothing made in sweatshops or Coca-Cola during apartheid) they cannot always choose to ignore the persuasive messaging in adverts disseminated across our daily lives.
Social Design as a means of Design(ing) for Good
Currently there is a movement focusing on the idea of designers making a difference in society called The Social Responsibility Movement. “Participants in this movement urge the graphic design community to confront the negative societal and environmental consequences of our rampant consumer culture.1” With this emergent design movement, designers can start or refocus their careers confronting the negative reputation that has been set by our consumer culture thus allowing them to influence the future of design. In order to have a more equitable future we must begin to rethink our efforts today. Starting with design education and the professional development industry in design, I plan to analyze how awareness of socially responsible design efforts can be integrated into design education and professional seminars.
While working on compiling information on social design and the obligations of designers, a society driven approach was taken to identify reliable sources. Rather than focusing solely on sources in publications and the graphic design industry, I have chosen to search for the overall culture of the communication design industry and what is considered the standards and obligations in the trade today. Therefore, I have begun to research ways to do an ethnographic study and how to work on qualitative in a field that seems to be so unquantifiable.
It is my desire upon completion of this thesis that I have a formal body of qualitative research that can be read and understood within the design industry and also from a social science perspective. By researching visual communications design in the form of an ethnographic study I plan to have an in-depth study of human behavior in the design industry. Focusing my research on the why and how of decision-making within the design process, this will allow for a fuller and more complete study of the industry and thus allow for a more equitable future.
1 Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory, Readings From The Field. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. 64-65. Print.
Ethos of graphic design has been misunderstood as a link between consumers and suppliers for too many years. Over the last century graphic designers have worked to promote products and services they didn’t believe in or use themselves. In some cases, designers have helped to contribute to excessive consumption and prodigious waste through their use of catchy phrases and sayings. Designers have begun to rethink the content in which they are designing with in order to decide if this follows their personal and professional ethical standards. With the talent to combine ideas, problem solving skills, and a strong need to communicate; designers have the ability to use these talents to encourage a better understanding of the cultural and social needs around the world. Rather than using their problem solving skills to sell a product, graphic designers use these skills now more than ever to make a positive impact on society whether locally or globally.
The idea of doing meaningful and so-called “good” design is not a new concept by any means. Discussed and written about for many generations, good design has been a subject of many essays, books and even manifestos. When Ken Garland published the First Things First Manifesto in London in 1964, he set out to refocus the design industry by working to raise design to a more meaningful level within society. Rallying against the consumerist culture and the current lack of critical thought, the designers and artists who signed the manifesto protested that design is not neutral, but rather a valuable process that can contribute to society rather than take away from it. At the time, many viewed graphic design as a tool to sell products rather than what it was actually capable of doing: making a difference within society.
The manifesto was reprinted in its entirety in the Guardian newspaper on January 24, 1964 in London. An excerpt from the newspaper quoting Anthony Wedgwood Benn, a Member of Parliament in London, highlights his personal perspective of the manifesto. Benn stated:
“The responsibility for the waste of talent which they have denounced so vehemently is one we must all share. The evidence for it is all around us in the ugliness with which we have to live. It could so easily be replaced if only we consciously decided as a community to engage some of the skill which now goes into the frills of an affluent society.”
In 2000, this manifesto was republished to continue the fighting battle started nearly four decades earlier between design, industry, and society. The reprinted and reworded version was aimed to further generate discussion about the industry of graphic design, its professional image among society, and it’s meaning from one designer to another. The manifesto was rewritten to focus on the way that society perceives designers while simultaneously questioning those designers who continue to create a demand for inessential products. With special focus on contrasting the earlier views and opinions, the signees of the 2000 manifesto set the tone for what design is and is not in a brutally critical way. The messages in the new manifesto granted urgency and forceful influence causing designers and consumers to rethink the way they look at communication and the designed world around them. Several of these urgent messages fall within the following excerpt:
“There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention. Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programs, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help.”
The 1964 FTF manifesto focused on the fact that the designers involved did not feel that they were contributing to their national prosperity. Although that manifesto highlighted words such as useful and lasting forms of communication, the 2000 FTF manifesto added to that list. With more of a global and international focus, the 2000 FTF manifesto proposed “a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication.” What is important about this shift from the two manifestos is that their was a consciousness among designers that they were not being used for their full talents and by 2000 many of their design pursuits seemed not only trivial but also non-democratic in the form of commercialization having power over the citizens opinions.
The First Things First Manifestos have proven to stand the testament of time from the sixties all the way into the 21st century. Several questions have come to mind after reading both of the manifestos causing urgency within our profession to join todays growing positive design revolution. With the power to make a difference in the world through communication, designers are now working to revoke the meaningless brand they have held in the past. Knowing that the world could go on without them, designers are now focusing on the ways they can design for environmental, social, and cultural needs that are demanding our talents. What can designers accomplish to push the industry from ordinary to extraordinary? How can we begin presenting our industry as a vision of a more equitable future? What are our responsibilities ethically, environmentally, and socially as graphic designers? How can we help students to better understand their worth in the future of mankind through their creativity and eagerness to learn what’s right from wrong?
Back to the original issue at hand, what do we really consider to be “good” design? In an interview, Mike Weikert of the Maryland Institute College of Art was asked, “How do you define “Good Design”?” His response touches on many points that allow people outside of the design world to better understand what designers actually do and that the process of creation is not just limited to problem solving. Weikert said of “Good Design”: “Design and the design process can contribute to positively impacting our world and creating positive change. The process, however, is more complex than simply designing a brochure for a nonprofit. It involves problem identification, targeting objectives and audiences, immersion into research, implementation of design thinking and strategy, and an overall collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. This approach to design should not be thought of as charity, aid, or volunteerism, but a significant contribution that plays an important role in local, national, and global well being.” One major part of design that seems to be overlooked in the general definition is the importance of research. With a strong background and understanding, designers have the ability to become professional storytellers when creating designed materials for a client or product once in depth research is completed.
In the past, commercial designers working on corporate advertisements looked at projects with a broader context as extraneous to their portfolio. Today, this work is not only relevant, but is what agencies seek when hiring young designers. Since fledgling designers do not have much authority over the content in which they are designing for, many focus on self-initiated work when entering the job market.
Rather than focusing on non-profits or charity work only, the new focus is to design for the overall impact on your neighborhood whether it be on a local or global level based on your interests or your agencies interests. By doing work that is personal at some level, designers understand their role as communicators and work to solve problems one project at a time with the ability to make an impact.
One important shift in design education is the growth of ethical standards. Design schools such as Savannah College of Art and Design now have design programs focusing on sustainability. Since 2009, SCAD has been working to allow students to learn in cross-disciplinary environments such as Graphic Design and Design for Sustainability. These new educational programs fuse social and environmental methodologies into design education allowing students to enter the industry well prepared to compete with others in the field.
Following along the lines of doing “good” in design, SCAD also holds the Design Ethos conference. An open-air conversation about what we should be doing in the design field, Design Ethos focuses on collaboration throughout the three-day conference. With a selected local community related assignment, designer’s work to create deliverables achieving the mission of the proposed project in what SCAD calls a “Do-Ference’. The attendees are asked to work quickly on a short deadline allowing little time to reflect until they return to their agency lives. This is a great benefit as the overall goal of the conference is to make a difference in your community between visual design and living.
Attending weekend workshops or design camps is another important practice in educating young designers in “good” design techniques. Firebelly Design, a group of sustainable and socially minded artists and designers in Chicago, hosts an annual design camp called Camp Firebelly. The 10-day camp host’s ten pre-selected campers to live and work within the Firebelly Design studio. Focusing on one non-profit client, campers craft a strategic plan while working on researching the client’s needs, designing, and completion of the project with printed deliverables. Camps such as this are held in various forms nationally and are a growing seedling to the future of socially minded design.
In addition to their in-house design camp, Firebelly Design is also responsible for working to create the Grant for Good. By enlisting local like-minded design firms, the Grant for Good works to fine tune one non-profits brand strategy for a year at no cost. In addition to the overall visual appearance, the grant includes professional website development, copy writing, social marketing, photography and video services from enlisted firms within Chicago. Most recently the Chicago Women’s Health Center won the Grant for Good receiving a years worth of professional design services free of charge.
Corporate companies such as Adobe have adopted the goals of The Designers Accord. A project created by a global coalition of designers and leaders, The Designers Accord is working to make a positive impact through the creative community for better social and environmental change. The coalition of artists encompassing the accord hopes to make the term “sustainability” mainstream in all forms of design within five years of its start in 2007. With only a few months remaining, it will be interesting to re-evaluate their efforts in the next year.
An influential and leading example of the value design can hold within the world is the Chicago based non-profit EPIC (Engaging Philanthropy, Inspiring Creatives). EPIC works to empower non-profit clients that are dedicated to promoting good causes, while simultaneously giving designers the chance to use their talent to make a bigger impact. By pairing the non-profits with designers and agency volunteers, pro-bono work is designed with the goal of impacting as many lives as possible. All of the above examples are movements that are putting our design skills to worthwhile uses in todays multi-disciplinary design world.
An alternative practice that works to empower the design community is using the word “no.” If each designer would choose to say no when asked to do work they don’t ethically agree with, we could continue to grow closer to becoming a well respected, value driven design industry. Designing for spec work is something that has been a topic of conflict between designers and clients for many years. By doing speculative work (work that you are not guaranteed to get paid for), you are attaching value to your work in a negative way. If designers work for free there is no value attached and the client will not respect the services rendered. In the future you will be forced to reintroduce yourself with the hopes that the client will offer you a paying project. After ideas are on paper there is no way to get them back that is why the Graphic Artists Guild has created a great list of codes to live and work by. As stated in The Code of Fair Practice under Article 29:
“Work on speculation: Contests. Artists and designers who accept speculative assignments (whether directly from a client or by entering a contest or competition) risk losing anticipated fees, expenses, and the potential opportunity to pursue other, rewarding assignments. Each artist shall decide individually whether to enter art contests or design competitions, provide free services, work on speculation, or work on a contingency basis.”
Sites such as www.no-spec.com work to educate the public and the design community of the importance of declining spec work. Providing facts on the importance of turning down spec work, sites like this can help to change the future of design allowing designers to see the importance of declining work when they know they will not receive necessary compensation for services rendered. The no-spec site also shares a wealth of information directed to businesses on why they should not ask for spec work. Overall, without sites such as www.no-spec.com designers, educators, and business owners would continue on this risky path devaluing the design profession.
Designers have an overwhelming amount of power to influence society with their creative talents. With power comes responsibility, to what is socially right, what is right for the environment, and most importantly what is ethically right to the design community at large. To clear the air as to what graphic design meant in the past, we must clarify what we stand for today; showcase the importance of our work in society; and clarify what we stand against. What our profession stands for is completely up to us, the designers. We must decide what we promote our industry as and ultimately promote our talents by doing “good”.
With the second edition of First Things First Manifesto being published over a decade ago, how long will the underlying messages of urgency take to remedy themselves with the help of the design community? Knowing that you can make a difference is sometimes the answer to the problem. With so many forces helping designers grow, only time will tell until we are all working to create socially, ethically, and environmentally friendly campaigns.
Currently we have access to so many resources such as educational workshops and camps, future designers will become more than creative problem solvers. Through a thorough understanding of their clients and end consumers, designers have a great chance to become not only problem solvers, but also fully engaged human beings within our ever-changing world. By focusing more of our time on researching the overall meaning of each project, we have a unique chance to become educated on the world around us in a way that can greatly benefit our work. In turn, students will benefit by working with design educators that choose to enhance their curriculum focusing more on the way we research rather than the goal of learning to meet a deadline or creating a visual portfolio. For young designers to focus on the way they approach projects, the questions they ask their clients, and promoting clients in a true and accurate way will all be necessary in reinventing ethics in design.
In conclusion, all designers whether they are students, educators, or seasoned in the field should continue to take a moment and question what it is that they are working on. By allowing time for reflection, designers can work to hone the power that we have and focus our efforts on promoting positive actions whether it be helping get clean water in Haiti or sharing public safety information for your neighborhood. If we no longer focus on design for vanities sake, we can start to make an impact locally, nationally, and internationally on our communities. Being capable of fully understanding that we have the authority to improve the lives around us is an essential tool in any designer’s toolbox.
Works Cited: Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory, Readings From The Field. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. 64-65. Print.
Berman, David B. Do Good Design: How Designers can Change the World. 1st ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2009. 131-136. Print.
Bierut, Michael, William Drenttel, and Steven Heller. Looking Closer Four: Critical Writings on Graphic Design. 4th. New York, NY: Allworth Press, 2002. 5-13. Print.
Brown, Tim. Change by Design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. 1st ed. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009. 177-242. Print.
“Design for a Brighter Future.” www.AIGA.org. American Institute of Graphic Artists, 10/10/2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.aiga.org/design-for-a-brighter-future/>.
“Design for Good: Ways to Get Involved.” www.AIGA.org. American Institute of Graphic Artists, 10/10/2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <http://www.aiga.org/designforgood-get-involved/
After one of the most amazing weekends, I must share some stories from the 3rd Annual Wayzgoose! From November 4, 5 & 6 the 3rd annual Wayzgoose took place at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. On my second trip to the gorgeous and friendly Two Rivers, WI I was fortunate enough to rub elbows with typography and design greats such as the legendary type designer Matthew Carter, Tracy Honn of Silver Buckle Press, calligrapher and hand letterer Paul Shaw, Jim Sherraden and Bradley Vetter of Hatch Show Prints, and many more!
One great surprise was the introduction to Judith Poirier of École de design UQAM, Montreal. Judith works with unexposed 35mm film strips and letterpress to create amazing films! Animated Letterpress was created over the last few years and has won many awards (and deserves to win many more!). Here is a short clip taken during the lecture: Animated Letterpress Clip. While watching the video you will hear sounds that play simultaneously with the movement of type. By experimenting with printing letterpress letters and punctuation, Judith created different sounds on the video as different forms of imagery run through the projector. There seems to be a great love for lack of technology at events such as the Wayzgoose, but Judith shows an amazing amount of attention to detail in her work. Incorporating letterpress, 35mm film, digitization, the sound created naturally by these materials, and an end product that is amazing! Judith will be on my list of people to watch as she announced she is now working on another series of films.
Some of the workshops that I was lucky to attend included a calligraphy lesson with Paul Shaw, relief printing with Carl Montford, day-to-day design scenario lessons by Brad Vetter, and handmade book binding with Kevin Steele. I won’t say that one workshop was my favorite… because they all were! It was so hard to leave one workshop to attend the other, but each had their own special lesson. By the end of Saturday we were all exhausted but super excited to hear Matthew Carter and Stan Nelson speak at the dinner. Below are a few photos from the workshops, the museum, attendees, and the speakers.
For those of you that haven’t heard about the museum, here is a little background. Located 90 miles north of Milwaukee and 45 miles southeast of Green Bay, the HWT&PM’s collection is one of the premier wood type collections in the world with over 1.5 million pieces of wood type. The museum also houses a working press room where tours are held for visitors and workshops are held for the many lovers of wood type. With the goal of preservation, studying, production and printing of wood type, the museum is not only a place to view these historical artifacts but also a place to work with them through your love for wood type. I would highly suggest stopping in Two Rivers on your next trip through Wisconsin. After all, they are the home of the first ice cream sundae!
Check out the photos below. Be sure to visit the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum online, or in person! In person is much better!